The Youth Factor in International Development

How do youth get involved? How do NGOs and governments engage youth? How can youth realize the power that they have? These are some questions that are becoming more and more necessary and useful to explore, especially at a time when we all must commit to address climate change, sustainable development and barriers to peace.

BARKA with the Student Environment Action Committee at John Bast High School in Bangor Maine

Each year on August 12th, the UN celebrates International Youth Day. The International Year of Youth (IYY) started in August 2010 and will end August of this year.  The IYY website (http://social.un.org/youthyear/) contains information about the year, related events, how youth can get involved and how the year has helped youth gain a more significant voice.

The UN program on Youth (UNPY) has created a guide describing actions youth can take to address societies problems during the International Year of Youth and beyond.  The guide titled, “Activities Kit: A Guide to Celebrating the International Year of Youth” can be downloaded from (http://social.un.org/youthyear/participate.html).

The UNPY guide to getting involved is a great resource. It lays out strategies and techniques to connect and organize with others, and creates initiatives to make an impact, whether it is an impact on local business or international development.

Just some things that the UNPY guide suggests youth can do after proper organization and planning:

– Create awareness through a call to action and public service announcement video/audio

– Put together concerts or arts festivals with social messages

– Mobilize and engage with youth-led town hall meetings

– Work with local businesses to shift towards more sustainable practices

Children in Tantiaka

Youth volunteerism and community engagement on a local, national or international level is necessary in order to generate real progress in our society.  Climate change, sustainable development and peace are core to our current and future existence.

These problems are especially important to young people, because these are the issues that youth will be dealing with on the world stage throughout our lives. Youth need to take a leading role to address climate change and violent conflicts to prevent future crises. Youth must realize that creating sustainable societies, lessening the effects of climate change and fostering peace in the world are issues that will continue to plague the world and humanity unless we begin to take action now.

The challenge of making an impact on policy and government behavior is a difficult one for youth; creating a strong coalition of youth that commit to addressing development, peace and the environment on an international scale will make a difference in today’s policy and, even more so, in the international policy in the near future.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.) can be a great way for youth to connect with other youth and link up with NGOs. It can also be an effective tool for NGOS to use to reach out to youth.  Social media is just the jumping off point though; once connected, youth and adults, alike, must commit to put their common ideas into action.

Beyond engaging the communities that are near you, reaching out to political leaders and effectively using social media, to solve the pressing problems of the day it is necessary to reach out to communities and cultures across your nation and throughout the world.

The first step of development is exploring the needs of a community with the people in that community. This enables an outside group to work with that community to address these problems and work towards achieving the UN’s Millenium Development Goals (http://www.undp.org/mdg/basics.shtml).

BARKA speaking with children at Pleasantville Middle School

BARKA realizes the importance of community-led development and engaging with different communities. In the village of Tantiaka in Burkina Faso, BARKA first spoke with villagers to determine that the most pressing need of the community was access to clean water. BARKA has joined together with the community to improve villagers’ access to clean water and will continue to work with Tantiaka towards addressing Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).

One of BARKA’s initiatives in Tantiaka is the WASH in Schools program (http://www.unicef.org/wash/schools/), which places hygiene education in schools at the center of the strategy to address the community’s water and sanitation needs. Youth are of critical importance in this program, as UNICEF has found that children take the hygiene principles that they learn in school and share them with their families and wider community. And with BARKA’s water initiatives, the burden on women and girls to retrieve water will be lessened and more girls will be able to attend school.

It is important that youth and those involved in global development promote inter-cultural dialogue and respect the cultures of the communities that they work with in order enrich communities abroad and at home.

There are plenty of ways to take action, so it is up to the individual and all the youth out there to create awareness amongst friends and communities and put the time and effort towards affecting positive change. You can even get involved with BARKA’s bridge building initiatives and Walks for Water with U.S. schools, kindergarten through college. Join the conversation; tell us your ideas about youth involvement and your stories of engaging communities.

– Arthur Tarley, BARKA UN Youth Representative

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